Colors in Winter

Throughout the spring, summer, and early fall, I took pictures of flowers and plants around our neighborhood. I was gathering ideas for my own garden, but also admiring others’ arrangements with no intention of recreating them myself. In mid-January, I’m not doing much gardening – just tending to my African violets, aloe plant, and a few decidedly-not-lush-looking rosemary and thyme plants – but looking at these pictures reminds me of the bright colors that will come around again. Hat tip to Frederick (Leo Lionni).

Captions are the names and locations of plants, to the best of my ability/recollection.

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Next door neighbor’s tulips

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Grape hyacinth and vinca vine

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Bright tulips opening, on our usual walking route

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Weeds? Perhaps. But I’ve always loved violets, and their purple with the dandelions’ yellow is a beautiful combination.

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Dogwood tree (I think) in blossom, in our neighborhood

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Another pair of tulips in the neighborhood

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Our rhododendron, before I gave it away

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Some beardy irises with morning dew (or rain?)

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Pallets repurposed as planters, outside Kickstand Cafe

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Don’t remember what these two-toned ones are called, but the contrast is striking

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My large planter, with Icelandic poppies and verbena

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Clover on an overcast morning, near Mass Ave

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Rose campion, successfully transplanted, with a bit of lavender sprawling in, and vinca vine (since removed)

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Love this wildflower garden on Mass Ave

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Same garden, another day. If we had full sun I would do exactly this.

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A neighbor’s potted nasturtium

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Purple balloon flowers

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Don’t know the name for these, but the green and pink remind me of watermelon tourmaline.

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Don’t remember the name of this one either but it reminds me of something Dr. Seuss would invent.

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Someone in our neighborhood grew truly enormous sunflowers – nearly ten feet tall by the end of summer.

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Daisies and coneflower/echinacea, I think. I like this combination.

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Morning glory: the best way to beautify a chain link fence.

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Early hydrangea

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Lantana?

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Later hydrangea

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Blue hydrangea

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A type of sedum, I think? Saw this everywhere in August and September

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Cosmos

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And more cosmos

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Purple

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Nasturtium with variegated leaves

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Sweet pea

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A feast for a butterfly!

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Not sure. Some relation of hydrangea?

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No idea.

 

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In the oven (NOT A METAPHOR)

Homemade cinnamon raisin bread

Cinnamon raisin bread

Give me a little free time in summer, and I’m in the garden; give me a little free time in winter, and suddenly the house is full of sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, cream scones, oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Swedish visiting cake, and sour cream coffee cake. (To be fair, my partner-in-kitchen made the coffee cake. And helped with the cookies.)

Sandwich bread: King Arthur Flour

Cinnamon raisin bread: America’s Test Kitchen (but the kid baffles me: “No butter on my toast!” What??)

Oatmeal cookies: Flour by Joanne Chang (I used dried apricots instead of raisins)

Chocolate chip cookies (a.k.a. “most best”): Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Cream scones: America’s Test Kitchen (I used raisins and candied ginger instead of currants)

Swedish visiting cake: Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan (I’ve made this at least seven times since discovering it. It is SO EASY and SO DELICIOUS. I don’t make the topping, I just sift a little powdered sugar over it once it’s cooled a bit.)

Sour cream coffee cake: Flour

We did have salmon and kale for dinner the other night, so we’re not subsisting solely on baked goods, and both cakes were to share…but still, I should probably concentrate on vegetables for a little while.

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What’s cooking

Dog lying on a pillow

But also, here is a photo of the dog.

This used to be, as a friend once described it, a blog about food and pictures of my dog. It’s evolved a little bit away from that in the past few years, but here’s a roundup of some of the recipes I’ve made over the last few months, partly inspired by my reading and by the new cookbook club I started at the library.

Cooking

Tsimmes from Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten: Fine, but not as good as the tsimmes my friend brought to Rosh Hashanah last fall; I should have used her recipe. I tried the Barefoot Contessa’s because (a) it took less time, and (b) that was the cookbook club book.

Pita chips from The Food52 CookbookAs advertised: better than store-bought chips. I made these to bring to the first cookbook club.

Pasta with tomato sauce and cheese, with a side of Brussels sprouts in the cast iron on the stove top: first time I’d made Brussels sprouts in a while, I forgot how good they are. (Not that good left over. Get ’em while they’re hot and crispy.) This isn’t really a special recipe but it’s here as proof that I don’t use my kitchen solely to bake cookies.

“Green casserole”: I don’t particularly enjoy munching on spinach leaves and neither, it turns out, does my two-year-old, but we will both happily eat “green pasta.” 1. Cook any short/medium shape of pasta as usual. 2. Put a whole bag of spinach in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and one clove of garlic. 3. Drain pasta, and while the empty pot is still warm, add a couple tablespoons of butter, some milk or cream, grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, then mix in the spinach. 4. Add the pasta back into the pot and stir to coat. 5. Optional: add more milk or cream, dump it all into a casserole dish, top with extra cheese, and bake for 20 minutes. If you do this, make sure you take the pasta out when it’s al dente, or it may get too mushy.

Winter vegetable crunch: My friend brought me some salad she’d made, a combination of Brussels sprouts and carrots, and it was delicious. I borrowed her recipe (lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, mustard) and used purple cabbage and rainbow carrots. Everything into the food processor! This was the first time I bought a cabbage. (It goes a long way. This would be a good salad to serve if you have a lot of people coming over.)

See also: pizza (below)

Baking

Last-minute chocolate cake from Garlic & Sapphires by Ruth Reichl: The cake didn’t rise much (not even all the way to the top of the bread tin). It was good warm, but not great leftover – definitely needed ice cream or whipped cream. Probably wouldn’t make again, but will try “Nicky’s Vanilla Cake” from the same book.

Pear clafouti from Wintersweet: This recipe called for cranberries also but was very, very good with just pear. I’ve made it both ways now. Easy and delicious.

Oatmeal raisin cookies from Flour (again, and again, and again)

Pumpkin cookies from Martha Stewart Cookies: Like all pumpkin cookies I’ve ever made, a little wet and cakey, though the flavor was good.

Pumpkin “bread” (cake) from my mom’s recipe, with the caramel icing from Faulknerian Family Spice Cake from The Food52 Cookbook (minus about a cup of confectioner’s sugar): This pumpkin bread really doesn’t need icing, but I made it in muffin tins (halve the baking time) for my daughter’s second birthday party, and, well, cupcakes should have a little icing. It was a good combination.

“Easy as pie” Apple cake from the New York Times: A friend brought this over for brunch and this was the recipe she used. I think I made it too, afterward, but I don’t remember. Apple cakes are usually pretty foolproof.

French toast: French toast seems fancy but is actually very easy. Soak bread in egg/milk/vanilla mixture, sprinkle it with cinnamon, and cook it on both sides over medium heat till golden-brown. Slice some bananas into the pan with butter too so they caramelize and put them on top, or use fresh fruit.

Guinness Brown Bread from Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten: The bread fell apart when I tried to turn it out of the loaf tin. Flavor was OK but not outstanding. Rather than make this again I’d just make Boston brown bread.

Cranberry orange bread from America’s Test Kitchen: My mom brought me some fresh cranberries from the Cape and this was one of the ways I used them (see also: pear clafouti). If you only have dried cranberries, soak them in water or juice before adding them to the batter.

Banana bread from Flour (again)

Sprinkle cookies from Smitten Kitchen: A friend made these for our December book club/cookie swap and they were so much better than sprinkle cookies usually are that I made a batch a few days later. So good – and fun for kids to roll the balls of dough in the sprinkles!

Sliced bread

Loaf of bread on a wire rack

ACTUAL BREAD from King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Pain de Mie. One of my goals for 2018 was to start baking sandwich bread instead of buying bread at the grocery store, and I tackled it on January 1. It came out beautifully! (For years I have been avoiding any recipe that called for active dry yeast, after being burned – not literally – too many times by less-than-active yeast. No more!)

Emboldened by my success with the sandwich bread, I made pizza dough from Smitten Kitchen tonight: her “rushed” version from the first book takes about six minutes to put together and has just a 30-minute rise, so it is actually manageable for dinner without much planning ahead. We topped it with pasta sauce, Italian herbs, shredded mozzarella,  black olives, and kale.

Toddler with olives on fingers

She quickly mastered the ancient art of putting olives on one’s fingers

 

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What we’ve read so far, 2 years 2 months

We have discovered Maisy in a big way recently. A friend’s daughter really loves the Maisy books by Lucy Cousins, and so I thought I’d bring some home from the library to try. And what a hit! So far we’ve read Maisy Goes on Vacation, Maisy Goes to the Movies, Maisy’s Field Day, Maisy Goes on a Plane, Maisy Goes to Preschool, and Maisy Goes to the Library.

Maisy books are a little bit like the Spot books – they introduce new experiences in a gentle, fun way – but they’re more colorful and have more words, and therefore hold up better to more re-reading. What I can’t figure out, though, is if Maisy is supposed to be a kid (as Field Day and Preschool would suggest) or a grown-up (her friend Cyril drives her to the airport and she goes on a plane by herself). The only adult-like figures seem to be tall birds, like the ostrich who hands out snacks at field day and the peacock who reads a story in the library. Does anyone have any insight on this?

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Maisy, The Loud Book and The Quiet Book, If You Give A Pig A Pancake

I also really like The Loud Book and The Quiet Book. There are, after all, many kinds of loud and quiet. Kids probably appreciate The Loud Book at an earlier age, particularly if the adult reader does the proper sound effects.

Stack of books, spines showing

More picture books, and yes, Martha Stewart’s Cookies

Dream team: Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hora’s collaborations are great; Wolfie the Bunny is our favorite, but Horrible Bear! is good for its demonstration of how we can hurt people and things by accident, and apologize and forgive, and Read the Book, Lemmings! is just plain funny.

Beekle author is back: Dan Santat’s new book After the Fall is about what happened to Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall. It’s really beautiful: the toddler liked it because she knew the character from the rhyme, and it made the dad tear up. And Santat teamed up with Mac Barnett for Oh No! Not Again!, a funny story about a girl who thinks the best solution to a wrong answer on her history test is to go back in time and change history so her answer is correct (some people will go really, really far to be right).

Standing on a stool, measuring raisins

Measuring two cups of raisins for oatmeal raisin cookies

Bears: Old Bear is a beautifully illustrated book about the change of seasons; a bear dreams through hibernation and emerges in the spring. A Visitor for Bear is a little on the long side for younger toddlers but there’s plenty of repetition, and the visitor in question (the mouse) keeps popping up in funny places.

Baking: I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda is a favorite, as is Please, Mr. Panda. And speaking of baking, yes, that is Martha Stewart’s Cookies in the pile. I may have mentioned before it has the best table of contents I’ve ever seen – pictures of all the different cookies, organized by type (light and delicate, soft and chewy, etc.).

What books are the kids in your life loving these days?

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What we’ve read so far, 2 years and 1 month

Two years and one month sounds older than 25 months, doesn’t it? Anyway, I choose not to count in months now that we’ve got more than one year under our belts. I wish I’d kept up these “what we’ve read so far” posts with even more regularity, but it’s been a little while since the last one (“What we’ve read so far, 22.5 months”). While we’re at it, I also wish I’d cribbed the title of Nick Hornby’s column in The Believer, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading.” What was I thinking? Who knows – I certainly wasn’t sleeping much when I started these.

We’re still getting big stacks of books from the library regularly, but for this post I thought I’d take a picture of the bookshelves in her room. Even these aren’t the whole picture, because we also have books for her in the living room and dining room and car and scattered pretty much everywhere, but they’re never going to be all in one place. My personal feng shui could be boiled down to “books in every room.”

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On the top shelf, we have the books that PJ Library has sent, some books that are too tall for any of the shelves, and all of our Mo Willems (Pigeon!), Spot, and Winnie-the-Pooh books.

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On the middle shelf are all the big picture books: fairy tales, poetry, Shel Silverstein, and then a mix of books from our own childhoods, books we’ve bought more recently, and books she received as gifts from friends and family. Some people shy away from giving librarians (and their kids) books, but I’ve rarely received a duplicate, and I’ve discovered some great books that were new to me: The Circus Ship; Julia’s House for Lost Creatures; Where, Bear?; Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn; Little Elliot, Big City; Nanette’s Baguette, and more. Thank you to our thoughtful, generous friends!

Some of our newer (i.e. not from our own childhoods) favorites are here: 13 Words; Bark, George!; Z is for Moose; Sometimes I Forget You’re a Robot; A Greyhound, A Groundhog; Goodnight, Everyone; Sleep Tight, Farm; and The Adventures of Beekle. And our childhood favorites as well: Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, and Sendak-illustrated What Do You Do, Dear? and What Do You Say, Dear?; Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Dear Zoo; One Woolly Wombat; and Once I Ate A Pie.

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On the lowest shelf are the board books, which she still enjoys. There are some good ones to read before bedtime, like Time for Bed, Goodnight Moon, Bedtime for Chickies, and Sweet Dreams, Little Bear. There are some clusters of favorite authors like Chris Haughton and the Chu books by Neil Gaiman; there is our beloved Madeline; there are still a few touch-and-feel and lift-the-flap books; and there is some Dr. Seuss, including One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which she calls “the counting book” (because of the page where the creature has eleven fingers) or “White Fish Green Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” (if she’s looking at the cover). There’s another box of board books nearby (lots of Sandra Boynton and others).

Some of our favorite books to read at the table are If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, If You Give A Pig A Pancake, and all of the How Do Dinosaurs…? books by Jane Yolen (those are from the library, except How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Hanukkah?, which is from PJ Library). In the living room we have Lucy Cousins’ Yummy, a gift from a good friend whose daughter loves it too; Mix It Up by Herve Tullet; What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry; and Master-Pieces Flip & Flop, an art book where each portrait is divided into three pieces, so you can have Van Gogh’s hat over Frida Kahlo’s eyebrows and Arcimboldo’s fruit beard (for example).

I do still often switch up the gender from male to female if it’s not attached to a specific character; it’s too easy for the default to be “he/his/him,” and it’s something I am conscious of when we talk about her stuffed animals as well. It felt unnatural and forced at first, but that just proves how ingrained it is.

I’m so glad she loves reading, and reading together; it’s one of my favorite parts of the day. Her memory for books is very good, so sometimes we read fill-in-the-blank style where she says some of the words. Other times, we spend longer looking at the pictures. Even though her shelves are full, she can almost always find the book she wants to read, which means she remembers what the spines look like, too.

She also loves libraries; the one where I work is practically her second home, and when we traveled recently, we visited a different public library four days out of five, and she was always happy to go in and explore. Even though each one is different, they are all familiar, comfortable places.

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First stop on our trip, the excellent public library in Guilford, CT. Here they’re reading The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (we love King Baby as well).

In addition to reading, she sings a lot (we get the “Twinkle Twinkle/ABCs/Baa Baa Black Sheep” medley frequently), and she’s started to love puzzles. We have a couple beginner puzzles that have four puzzles of 3-5 pieces each in one box, but she has mastered those and lately has been doing a 26-piece wooden jigsaw of animals. Ravensburger, here we come! (And by “we,” I mean her and her dad, because I don’t have the patience for anything over 100 pieces.)

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Playing dress-up.

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Playground!

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Rainy day walk

 

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Two, too

Swear to God this is two different photos from two different days:

Greyhound dog snoozing in garden sunshine

Sudo in the garden, October 20

Greyhound dog snoozing in garden sunshine

Sudo in the garden, October 22

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Two

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Apple picking at Honey Pot Hill Orchards

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Onstage! Trying out a play theater in the Little Fox Shop

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A rainy day, with a new birthday umbrella and rain boots for jumping in puddles!

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Climbing up a slide at the playground

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Birthday monster and Mama

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